Just in case you’ve forgotten, Red Dwarf is set three millions years into the deepest of deep space, in a lonely, alienless Universe, well past the natural life span of the now distant human race. Despite this, and as early as series 1, we’ve always had our fill of guest stars, from artificial intelligences, to human created GELF monstrosities and haughty and / or insane holograms. The apparently narrow scope for guest characters has never been a problem.
Series X is now over and done with and every single episode featured at least one guest character of some description. They’ve all combined to make for a unique series, with encounters of the like we’ve never before, as well as ones expanding on past stories. So join me now, if you will, as I trawl through every single guest character, get to know the actor a little better (search for them on IMDb), assess them (needlessly and overtly infuse the piece with my own opinions) and finally try to work out which ones, if any, we are likely to see again come a potential Red Dwarf XI.
Mark Dexter (Howard Rimmer, Trojan)
Mark’s acting roots are on stage, but more recently he’s been one of those TV actors that you’re sure you recognise from something. For me it was Doctor Who (he played ‘Dad’ in the brilliant Forest of the Dead / Silence in the Library two parter) but he’s also done time on various soaps, including The Bill, Casualty and Coronation Street (for which, hilariously, IMDb has every single episode categorised as ‘season 1′) and guest spots on a number of recent UK drama series. He also likes drinking and writing about beer.
It can’t have been an easy task to cast Rimmer’s brother. It’s a job that, in the past, has only been taken on by Chris Barrie himself (child actors in Polymorph, Timeslides and Dimension Jump aside) and it’s something that needs to be *really* nailed if you’re using someone else. It turns out Mark’s undoubted skills as a character actor did the job perfectly. From the overall look to little mannerisms and ticks, Howard was undeniably Arnold’s brother, with the only possibly iffy detail being the undoubted difference in age. This becomes less of an issue if you subscribe to the theory that Howard’s ship was transported through both space *and* time by the quantum rod (as I do) but it’s still an odd situation, especially since we all know Rimmer is supposed to be a little younger than his three brothers. Age quibbles aside, Howard was also responsible for two of the bigger laughs in Trojan, namely his expert delivery of the word “twat” and his dopey reaction to Lister’s ‘psycic reading’. He’ll certainly go down as one of the best guest characters this series but, as with so much in Red Dwarf X, we can’t help but feel his time on screen was all too brief and unable to fully make as much of a mark on the episode as he could.
Despite his unceremonious death at the end of the episode, Howard’s return is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. We can only assume that the crew still have his light bee in their possession and as Lister has proved with his various DIY work on Kryten, anything is possible with a spanner and a bit of Scouse determination. If Doug ever sees fit to explore the relationship between Arnold and Howard a little further, then his resurrection would certainly not be a difficult leap of logic to swallow and, for a lot of fans, mean a very welcome return for Mark Dexter.
Susan Earl (Sim Crawford, Trojan)
Susan’s acting CV features a great many comedy performances, starting 11 years ago in The Mitchell and Webb Situation, through one off appearances in My Family and Coupling, to a full blown regular in Simon Nye’s bafflingly shit sit-com Hardware. More recently, and after an almost mandatory appearance on The Bill, Susan also featured in the Reggie Perrin re-make.
Arriving as she did with Mark Dexter’s Howard Rimmer, Susan’s Sim Crawford didn’t really get a great deal of time to make an impression in the episode. Introduced as a Simulant subservient to Howard, she didn’t have room to really show any personality until the all too hasty conclusion to the episode, where it’s revealed she’s more like the murderous Simulants we know and love than we initially thought. Once again, if we’re to believe that she, along with Howard, is from a time soon after Red Dwarf’s initial disappearance, Sim Crawford most likely consists the most subtle and satisfying tie to the show’s mythology this series had to offer, with her uprising echoing what we know of the murderous, human hating Simulants our crew regularly cross paths with.
Unless she’s since been disposed off, the lifeless husk of Sim Crawford is still on board Red Dwarf somewhere, and could easily make a return in the future if Doug Naylor takes a fancy to the idea. However, unlike Howard, there would seem to be little obviously point to resurrecting Crawford, so she’s likely to remain in whatever dusty cupboard she’s been unceremoniously stuffed in to.
Rebecca Blackstone (Pree, Fathers & Suns)
Red Dwarf has the honour of being Rebecca’s first television role. As David Ross would testify, any ‘legit’ actor worth their salt have theater experience, and as you’d expect Rebecca’s time at RADA is littered with stage production credits, and since 2011 her theater work as formed the bulk of her professional acting experience, the most notable of which is the 2012 production of The Sunshine Boys, where she appeared alongside Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths. As Rebecca mentioned in her interview for our Fathers & Suns Instant Reaction DwarfCast, this stage experience helped a great deal when rattling off long and complicated lines, which as anyone who attended the recording would tell you, she did faultlessly.
The character of Pree was one of my favourite aspects of the new series. Superficial and unfavourable comparisons can be made to Charles Augins’ Queeg, but Pree was an entirely new beast. With the benefit of hindsight, you can see where she fits into Doug’s tweaked setting for the show, representing how the JMC and the Space Corps seems to have much greater power over the lives of the crew, through a number of automated systems that, in Holly’s absence, can no longer be mollified. You can easily see the need the crew feel to get a new AI to run things (there’s no way life on board Red Dwarf has been made any the easier with Holly’s absence) but as we see, Pree’s deadly and uncompromising logic ended up being far more destructive and dangerous than the automated on-board computer could ever be. The role itself is an incredibly difficult one to play, as Pree is not only there to reel off long, complicated lines at breakneck speed, but there is very little room to fit in the actor’s personality. However, Rebecca manages this very subtly in a few scenes (the odd flash of a smile, or just the hint that she’s actually secretly enjoying the disruption she’s causing), which elevates the character from a simple automaton to something more consistent with what we already know about AIs in the Red Dwarf universe: if you give them time, and they WILL go mad.
Is it likely we’ll ever see Pree make a return in the future? Well, not really. Naturally, many fans are keen to either see the return of Holly or a permanent character to replace his/her role in the series, but Pree is definitely not that replacement. Having said that, the possibility of Rebecca herself returning in some capacity should definitely not be discounted. While her previous appearance will likely limit her to playing disembodied heads, there’s nothing to say she couldn’t return as another JMC computer or, even, as a permanent replacement for Holly. Basically, we just want an excuse to interview her again.
Kerry Shale (Medi-Bot/Denti-Bot/Taiwan Tony, Fathers & Suns)
Kerry Shale has had a long career in comedy, starting out in his native Taiwan, he… no, hang on it. Sorry, no, apparently he’s Canadian! Blimey, you learn something new every day. Anyway, yes, his first TV credit is in an episode of Ronnie Corbett’s Sorry! (fun fact: Norman Lovett hates this show) and from that point he’s appeared in comedy shows such as The Comic Strip Presents…, Paul Merton: The Series, The All New Alexi Sayle Show, Joking Apart and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (‘starring’ alongside Mac McDonald). His now infamous vocal talents have graced such works as Labyrinth (connecting him to Danny John-Jules), Dr. Zitbag’s Transylvanian Pet Shop and a giant crop of computer games. Skipping forward some years (because I’m lazy) he’s probably most recently well known for his part in Doctor Who as Doctor Renfrew in Day of the Moon, where he puts in a disarmingly subtle performance.
Kerry has the honour of having the most guest parts this series, with a grand total of three. I’m loath to rake over old ground, but what I will say is that he certainly brings the broadest performances out of any of the actors this series. As a result, opinion on him is very much split, especially when we get into the thorny issue of Taiwan Tony and all the tediousness that debate brings. However, that’s not to say that the ideas behind these caricatures aren’t good or, at the very least, consistent with the direction Doug has taken the show. As with Pree, they represent the more prominent position given to the onboard computers and systems, and provide a good avenue for new interactions and plot lines…
… but the thing is, you can easily imagine something like a vending machine possessing a quirky and over the top personality, but when that logic is extended to vital services like the medical or dental machines then this is sort of characterisation stretches believability to an uncomfortable degree, and so what could’ve been an interesting avenue to explore, turns into an irritating sideshow, marred by a performance that – even in the context of a fairly broad series – is destructively over the top.
Having said all that, Kerry and his characters (TT aside) are some of the most likely to make an appearance in the future episodes. The Medi-Bot is clearly a vital part of the ships running and so it’s not inconceivable that it would make a return – in fact, he was originally supposed to appear in Trojan as well, but that scene was cut. In his capacity as a voice actor, Kerry also has multiple opportunities to return as a vending machine or any other type of ship-bound AI that Doug might decide to include. Hell, he could even conceivably be cast as a replacement for Holly… Haha, no, that’s a funny joke of mine.
James Baxter (Jesus, Lemons)
James Baxter is merely a wee bairn of the TV industry next to most of his co-stars, but he’s been fairly busy since 2008, with by far his most notable role being that of Jake Doland in Emmerdale (the soap that even soap fans could take or leave) and Doctors (although unfortunately not in Andrew Ellard’s episode). His role before Red Dwarf was in a show called Love Life where, excitingly, he was credited as ‘Paul’ in episode 2 but then ‘PC Paul’ in episode 3, showing signs of some rapid character development. Rumours of him appearing the second series playing ‘Sergeant Paul’ are currently unfounded.
Lemons is the first off-ship adventure of series X and as a result the potential for NEW and EXCITING guest characters is rife. So, why *not* kick things off with an appearance by our one, true Holy Lamb, Sir Jesus Christ? Well, as we find out, James Baxter is not actually playing *that* Jesus, he’s playing Fake Jesus, and I think this helps and hinders the episode in equal measure. It certainly removes a lot of the episode’s bite in certain ways (the fact that crew didn’t actually operate on Jesus of Nazareth’s cock will always be a constant disappointment to me) but it does also mean that James’ slightly wonky portrayal can be forgiven to some extent. His finest moments come when the writing is at its best, especially his wonder at discovering bags, but most of his performance wasn’t really doing it for me. That said, John Hoare of this Parish loves his performance, and GNP and UKTV like him so much they stuck him on the spine for the alternate DVD cover, so in the main James is likely to be full of cheeky Fake Geordie pride with his contribution to Red Dwarf X.
As for the prospects of Fake Geordie, or even Fake Jesus, making a return next series… well, to be honest, insisting on even considering this for every character is already proving to be a little problematic especially since, in general, Red Dwarf doesn’t do returning guest characters and most of them don’t even have solid story reasons for their return anyway. Fake Geordie Jesus is firmly in this camp, and I predict we will not see hide nor hair of his strange, wide mouth in Red Dwarf ever again.
Indira Joshi (Erin, Lemons)
Aside from playing Madhuri in the eternally disappointing Kumar’s at No. 42, which surely everyone knows at this point, Indira has had a long career mainly involving TV roles, that spans back to 1979, including the amazingly named Londynczycy and the unambiguously titled The Indian Doctor. Amusingly she also shares credits with Kerry Shale on both Doctors and Superman IV: A Quest For Peace which, as previously mentioned, also featured Mac McDonald. How Kevin Bacon factors into this is currently unknown to me and, what’s more, I DON’T CARE.
Indira Joshi’s Erin holds the dubious honour of being a woman in Series X who wasn’t either evil, stupid, dead, evil then dead or stupid then dead. Whether this is an issue or not is another debate entirely, but the upshot is that Erin is a very well used and likable character, despite only appearing for a grand total of five or so minutes. Her interactions with the crew while selling them some lemons bring out some of the funniest moments of the episode (“Yeah, have you got any lemons?” / “No, we’re looking for lemons in general!” / “Well, they dropped things, sir” to name but them all). She’s also very strong in her Ten Commandments conversation with Fake Jesus, mainly because she was actually acting, rather than gnawing at every piece of available scenery.
Sadly, as with Tiny, Fake, Not Geordie Jesus, there’s not much precedent for characters or actors like this to making a return in the past, but she will forever live on in our hearts as mind as that quite good character, from a quite good series, who was quite good in those two scenes she was in.
Nicholas Richards (Uncle Aaron, Lemons)
Nicholas has the honorable distinction of having fewer IMDb credits than I do. However, the crucial point here is he was in a Red Dwarf episode, and I wasn’t, so I’ll shut up now. Aside from that, his only credit listed is as Paolo in Power of Three, which is some film, I guess. I’m sure it’s brilliant.
Presumably Aaron hails from the same Fake Georgie tongued place as Not Jesus, as his Fake Geordie voice is obvious throughout his scene. His part is small, and it concludes with a bit of a rubbish speech to a Roman Centurion, followed by being thrown to the ground, followed by a shit punchline. This throw was filmed quite a few times during the recording, presumably until the funniest throw was found, and Uncle Aaron could finally return to his native Fake Newcastle.
Tom Pepper (Man Who May Be Jesus & Judas, Lemons)
At the time of writing, poor little Tommy Pepper doesn’t have an IMDb entry. With my sole source of useful information taken away from me, I started to panic. What should I do? Could Tom Pepper actually be Jesus, and has thus magiced himself off the Internet to cover his real identity? Did he really ever exist? Could I possibly just Google him instead? Ah, here we are.
There’s little to say about his role, other than he did a brilliant job of looking like the classic Western vision of Jesus, and he managed to sneak in an appearance in the Last Supper scene, before he was revealed to the audience at the end of the episode. His portrayal at the end may look like he’s a *little* too pleased with himself, but other than that: FINE. He looks like Jesus and handled the split screen well. He was fine. What do you want from me?
Now to messily mop up the rest of the bit parts from the first half of the series. With this grab bag of voice over roles and minor on camera appearances.
Lucy Newman-Williams (All Droid Jayne/Phone Voice, Trojan)
Brian Bounds (All Droid Bob/Phone Voice, Trojan)
Laurence Bouvard (Phone Voice, Trojan)
Rupert Degas (Phone Voice, Trojan)
Hormuzd Todiwala (Waiter, Lemons)
Lucy and Brian get dual roles as the All Droid presenters, as well as playing phone voices of androids inexplicably stopping Lister from giving them money. The All Droid Shopping Channel is probably the strongest aspect of that mainly misguided sub-plot, with their performances being the main reason. It’s no easy thing to make deliberately cheesy and annoying presenting likable and funny, but this ended up being a nice little scene, with both actors doing very well. Laurence and Rupert also joined the roster of phone voices, about which I have no other useful points to make, other than the fact that I still wish Chris Barrie’s voice was still used in the final episode. I have similar feelings about the voice he did to fill in for Kerry Shale in Fathers & Suns, too.
The final actor on our list is Hormuzd Todiwala, who played the waiter in the food court that makes up the bulk of the Indian bazaar set. While nothing of any interest or note can be said about the few lines he got to speak, it’s worth pointing out the large group of extras that accompanied him and Indira to make up the general hustle and bustle of the market. From a production stand point the effort made with costumes was impressive, and it was genuinely exciting to see so many people on set during the recording. So to Hormuzd and the legion of extras, you all did a great job of making that set come to life, and I dearly hope you managed to steal some spices and cushions from the set.
That’s yer lot for part 1, then, but be sure to join in me in the summer of 2017 when I finally get round to writing up part 2, quite obviously covering guest stars from Entangled, Dear Dave and The Beginning. In the meantime, go fuck yourselves.